From: Sean Rhea
Subject: Lake Sunapee and North Stonington Race Reports
Date: May 22, 2006 4:22:30 PM EDT
To: MIT Cycling Team

This is it. The last weekend of my peak. For five weeks I've had only races on weekends and one hard day each Wednesday to keep me in shape. Doing so little riding keeps me rested for the races, but it won't maintain my form.

Originally, my season goal was to upgrade to Cat 3. Having already scored 18 of the 20 points necessary for that upgrade, however, I'm hoping to reach my goal early. I have two races this weekend: the Lake Sunapee Road Race in New Hampshire and the North Stonington Road Race in Connecticut. If I get 6th place in both or at least 5th place in either, I'll have my upgrade. Otherwise, I'll have to take a rest week, build up some more fitness, and try again.

The Lake Sunapee Road Race is a 23 mile loop with a short start-finish spur. We start at the Lake Sunapee ski resort, descend to the lake, ride two loops, and finish on the climb back up to the resort. Each loop has a fair number of rather long rollers (by New England standards), so it should be rather challenging.

Before the race, I look up the names of the racers who have beaten me earlier in the season. Michael DelRossi won both Jiminy Peak and Sterling; he's my main mark. Josef Brandauer came in second at Sterling, and I took second to Philip Porter at Sturbridge; I'll be keeping a close eye on both of them as well.

Remembering my trouble with the length of Jiminy Peak, my plan for this race is to sit solidly mid-pack unless one of my marks goes in a break, at which point I'll try and bridge. This strategy is a lot more dangerous than my usual one of staying in the top ten, but it also takes a lot less work and should leave me more rested for the final sprint. I've also done a few more hill workouts since Jiminy, and my climbing has improved a lot: my best Eastern Ave ascent has dropped from 4:03 to 3:40.

The race starts easy with a neutral descent to the lake. Shortly thereafter, a four-man break goes off. Normally, I would be worried, but Michael and Josef haven't moved. They both have large teams, and they're both capable of wining this race. If the break gets really dangerous, their teams will pull it in to protect their chances at the finish. Sure enough, while it stays off for most of a lap, the rollers eventually take their toll and it's pulled back in.

The first half of the second lap is less eventful, but people are definitely still pushing the pace over each roller. I'm starting to feel it in my legs, and I hope everyone else is, too. With about 15 minutes to go, I see Michael pull to the front. Josef and I both react immediately to join him. I smile, realizing that Josef is marking him as well. I'm now sitting around fifth wheel, ready to jump if either of them attack, but otherwise avoiding as much wind as I can.

Shortly thereafter, someone attacks up the right side. Someone else must have reacted poorly, too, because a huge crash erupts behind us. As so many times before this season, I hear that terrible sound of bikes and people hitting the ground. Michael Tonkinson, my ride up for the day, is one of the riders caught up in the crash; he takes a gentle fall into a ditch on the side of the road and is unhurt, but loses too much time to catch back on.

When it's all over, there are only 20-30 of us left in the lead pack. Some idiot from Dartmouth starts screaming at everyone to pull through, a tactic that makes no sense. We're already making good time, and everyone that's not already with us is going to have to chase like hell to catch back on. Even if they make it, they'll be cooked for the hill. But Dartmouth presses on, in the end doing most of the pulling himself. I'm not about to complain.

The finishing hill comes in two stages. The first is around 1-2 minutes long, then it levels out and even descends a bit before a 50-meter punch up to the line. A solid, 15-20 MPH headwind blows along the entire stretch. Having ridden the hill before the race, I expect the lower part to really hurt, but in the end it's gone quite quickly, so much so that I momentarily think I've forgotten the course. Then I see the finish-line banner, and the sprint is on.

I've crested the first rise in third wheel. Michael is first, followed by Josef. Michael swerves left and attacks, and Josef follows. Right then, another rider I don't recognize comes up the left side, blocking my line. Philip is on his wheel and I follow. Michael and Josef pull a good gap on us, but then Michael drops Josef. (He is really strong today.) Now Josef is all alone in the headwind, and the unknown rider pulls him back. Philip attacks, and I follow. We drop them both, putting me in third place again. With 20 meters to go I try to come around, but Philip's sprint is too strong.

I cross the line exhausted and gasping, but in third place. It's worth four points, meaning I'm now a Cat 3. I am stoked.

I return to the car, cool down, collect my prize ($40), and then we head home. I eat and rest as much as I can, mindful of my race tomorrow.

The North Stonington course is a short five-mile loop with a long (3-4 minute) climb. We start at the bottom of the climb and do four laps, then up it once more to finish, a total of five climbs in all. I've already got my upgrade points for Cat 3, but I'm hoping to do well today just to drive the point home. Another first would feel really good, and none of my marks from yesterday is here, so I have a very good shot at it. At the same time, it's not worth crashing over, so I plan to stay up front most of the race. With this in mind, when I see a three-man break go hard up the hill the second time, I follow. While we're only off the front for around half a lap, the move shatters the pack, leaving a lead group of only 20 or so.

Now, when the pack shatters on the second climb of a hill we're going to do three more times, there's no reason to push the pace in the front group afterwards. The guys that fell off are likely far enough back that they won't catch back on anyway, and even if they do, they'll be cooked. Since they couldn't even hold the pace when they were rested, they'll be dropped even more easily the next time up the hill. A few guys really don't understand this logic, though, and the three of them spend the rest of the race either pulling hard at the front or yelling at the rest of us to pull through. We ignore them and sit in out of the wind.

On the last time up, I get a good line, coming onto the hill in the top three. Attacks come and go, and I jump each one as it passes by, holding my position near the front.

Near the top, the climb levels off, and we pass the sign indicating we have only 200 meters to go. According to our pre-race instructions, we now have use of the full road to sprint. Someone takes immediate advantage of this fact, attacking hard as we fill both lanes. There are probably only around 10 of us left in contention, but somehow some asshole manages to lose control of his bike anyway. He swerves hard right, then back hard to the left, colliding into me before going down hard on his right side.

One advantage of being 6'2" is that even if you're skinny, you still outweigh the shorter racers, so while he knocks me hard several feet to the left, I manage to stay up. Which is not to say I was not scared. In fact, I was terrified, thinking there was no way I was going to hold it. But I pull through, only to look up right into the business end of a black Lexus. It's so close that I can clearly see the expressions of horror on the faces of the people inside. I swerve hard to the right, missing it by inches, and sit still in my saddle, stunned. It takes a few seconds for me to remember to keep sprinting, and I've lost my momentum by the time that I do, coming through the line in 8th place.

Afterwards, I ride another full lap of the course to calm down before I stop back by the finish to give the promoter an earful. Even with the fifteen minutes of cooldown, I'm still really pissed. I mean, you don't tell the pack that they'll have the full road and then let a damn car come down it opposite to their direction of travel during the final sprint. If it had been a few hundredths of a second earlier, I'd have gone into the windshield.

Apparently, the promoters are as shocked as I am, as for a moment they don't even believe my story. It takes another rider backing me up before they start looking appropriately worried. I'm too pissed to stick around any longer at that point.

As I head back down the hill, I learn that my ride up, Michael Tonkinson, has once again had terrible luck. He was right behind the guy that crashed, and while he tried to bunnyhop the crash, he endo'ed over it instead, landing on his face. Amazingly, he has only minor cuts.

We pack it up and head home, stopping momentarily to pet a very friendly donkey that is grazing in a nearby field.

So that's it. I have a 1st and 2nd in two crits, and a 2nd, 3rd, and 6th in three road races. May is almost over, my peak is through, and I am a Cat 3:

Begin forwarded message:
From: Diane Fortini
Date: May 22, 2006 2:18:56 PM EDT
To: Sean Rhea

The following request to change your USCF category has been approved and processed by USA Cycling: Request to change category from Cat 4 to Cat 3


Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because
it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because
it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.
-- Tom Robbins